Perception often is reality. And for the Mets, a team that has displayed an uncanny knack of making a bad narrative 10 times worse through the years, it’s never been more true for their handling of injuries.
Some might argue that the medical snafus that have consistently torpedoed the Mets, season after season, are the franchise’s biggest crisis — more worrisome than even payroll concerns or roster composition. Regardless of money spent or talent acquired, if players can’t play — and remain hurt longer than the public believes they should be — everything else is a moot point.
Team officials have been made painfully aware of this, over and over again, to the extent that they feel as if it’s an un-winnable PR battle. The negative pushback had become so overwhelming, the angry drumbeat so relentless, that merely turning down the volume seemed too daunting a task.
Until two weeks ago, when the absolute dumpster-fire handling of Steven Matz’s need to have the ulnar nerve in his elbow relocated surgically finally prompted the Mets to try a different direction. That Aug. 21 breakdown in the chain of command, and almost comical relay of information, led to the team rethinking how medical issues should be disseminated to the public.
Rather than button up further, as they tried earlier this season after the Noah Sydnergaard lat-muscle catastrophe, the Mets chose to do a 180 and take a more transparent approach to revealing injuries. Instead of putting a huge pile of hurting body parts on Terry Collins’ lap each afternoon for his 4 p.m. media briefing, the Mets opted for the somewhat radical approach of emailing a daily injury roundup, complete with the diagnosis for each player and what was next in the rehab process.
Initially, it was a risky move. Given the sheer number of players listed in that first email blast — a whopping total of 10, with varying degrees of severity — the Mets immediately opened themselves up to more ridicule, their presumed failings now categorized for easier consumption.
In the days that followed, however, the knee-jerk reaction became something else. By detailing and distributing their medical report, the Mets had managed to strip away the speculation and, as one official described it, the “elaboration” regarding a player’s medical condition. Now it was all there, laid out, in straightforward terms.
Even so, the Mets haven’t completely eliminated a dramatic twist or two. On Monday, with barely a whisper leading up to it, the team announced that David Wright was scheduled to have surgery to repair his right rotator cuff the following day in New York. At least they put the captain at the top of the seven-player list so he didn’t get lost in the shuffle.
Three days later, Wright was sitting at a microphone, his right arm in a sling, telling reporters that his intention is to endure another rehab, from yet another surgery, and do what he can to get back on the field. There was no room for any other interpretation.
“There’s a lot of questions like I’m dying,’’ Wright said. “I’m not dying.”
Kidding aside, the Mets realize they have more to clean up in terms of player conditioning and treatment. They’d be foolish not to. Giving Matt Harvey the green light to pitch on only three days’ rest last week came off as ridiculously poor judgment before they abruptly changed their mind. Better late than never, I guess.
But as far as getting an early jump on fixes for 2018, the emails are a smart way to start. Or at least an effort to stop repeating the same mistakes that made this season a medical disaster, both on the field and off.
Beyond this step, however, it will be interesting to see to what extent the Mets are willing to go. There is no plan to end their affiliation with the Hospital for Special Surgery — as they did with NYU’s Hospital for Joint Diseases after the 2004 season — and the training staff, for now, does not appear to be in jeopardy.
Can the Mets keep the status quo in those areas and still expect better results? In two weeks, they’ve already managed to improve some of their miscommunication issues, so problems can be fixed.
The reality is the Mets seem to be trying. The perception is going to take longer to change.
Slog days of September
After hearing commissioner Rob Manfred talk so much about the “integrity” of the game last week in the wake of the Red Sox’s Apple-aided sign-stealing activity, it remains hypocritical to suggest that a 162-game schedule is not damaged by the annual Sept. 1 roster expansions, when the final month — arguably most important of the six overall — is played by different rules.
Having a virtually unlimited bullpen and an expanded stable of pinch hitters changes how everything is done in September. Not to mention stretching out nine-inning games to last longer than at any other point in the season, something that already is a sore spot for Manfred in his efforts to make the sport more palatable for the next generation of fans.
The average length of a nine-inning game this month has been 3:08:47, up from the year’s overall 3:05:27, which also happens to be an all-time high for MLB. Last year, a game averaged an even three hours. In 2015, it was 2:56.
The expanded rosters certainly aren’t helping Manfred’s cause. During this past week, the Orioles had a 12-man bullpen for their three-game series against the Yankees at Camden Yards, allowing Buck Showalter to average five pitching changes per game.
Showalter agrees that it’s ridiculous but offers no apologies. “If the rules are the rules, you’re going to take advantage of them,” he said. “We all know what most managers — I think all managers — feel about September baseball and the rules. But what do you do? Say ‘listen, I don’t like it, so we’re only going to have six or seven?’
“Keep in mind, we spent some of the time this year with six guys in the bullpen. Now you double that. It gives you almost too many toys. Sometimes the options can kind of get in the way of some good decisions.”
Indians streaking, minus Miller
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Indians’ 17-game winning streak is the fact that they have done it without ace reliever Andrew Miller, who was among those primarily responsible for getting Cleveland to the World Series last year.
Miller hasn’t been quite as dominant this season, with a slightly higher ERA (1.65) and lower strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio (13.0), but that’s likely because of his knee troubles. He’s been on the disabled list since Aug. 22 with patellar tendinitis of his right knee — the landing leg — and probably will need another week of simulated games before returning.
In the first 15 games of the winning streak, however, the bullpen’s 1.42 ERA was the best in the majors and the relief corps’ 3.78 K/BB rate ranked third, behind the Red Sox (4.15) and Cardinals (4.00), in that same period.
“I don’t want to come back and mess it up,” Miller told MLB.com.